Review: Mitch Benn, Leicester Square Theatre

mitch benn

As fans of musical satire on Radio 4 may well have heard, Mitch Benn is only half the man he was. After being overweight for most of his life the Liverpool-born all-rounder decided he did not want to die without seeing his children grow up and lost eleven of his 25 stone a couple of years ago. Reduced Circumstances, which is an extended version of last summer's Edinburgh show, addresses the issue but not, ahem, too heavily.

The title is a canny topical one too. As well as the personal aspect, there is also a political edge too. Following the economic balls-up it is not just Benn's appetite that is facing strict austerity measures. Benn is best known for his rapid-response songs on The Now Show and, while they might not be so topical here, his spoof power ballads and jaunty numbers such as his Jolie/Madonna-skewering I Want An African Baby still pack a punch. His strictly ironic non-PC Song For Europe, however, in which he abuses every nation he can fit in, is as timely this week as it ever was. 

In the past I've seen Benn with his backing band The Distractions. He has shed those too here, instead backing himself on guitar and Everyday Looper App which allows him to produce instant samples. He's no Shlomo or Reggie Watts but this does set up a nice backbeat to his clever, often intricate rhymes. Benn clearly loves language, lobbing in words such as "symposium" and "disparage" that you are more likely to here at a lecture than a stand-up gig.

Not that Benn is a hectoring lecturer or a wannabe Robin Ince mixing high-brow science and grouchy gagsmithery. There are a few nice cerebral flourishes but the politics is largely kept to simple bashing of the Coalition and intolerance. As for his weight loss, he doesn't go into a great deal of detail there except to say that it was a bloody strict diet and he stuck to it rigorously. The trouble with food is that unlike alcohol or drugs you can't give it up and cut it right out of your life. You can't go cold turkey, as it were, where food is concerned.

There are plenty of moments where Benn lets his geekiness shine, peppering the set with references to Dr Who, quantum mechanics and sound effects from Star Wars. There is also his very own slimline rock opera inspired by Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds – don't panic, it only lasts about four minutes and is based on a much better book. And as well as dusting down his old show, after the interval Benn does some impressive impro – well semi-impro, he gets the subject just before the break and no doubt beavers away at writing the new song where other acts might be chomping their way through a mid-gig pile of cheese rolls. 

Talking of which, Benn is certainly on a roll at the moment. He has a sci-fi novel out in July and in the autumn he takes over the part of Zaphod Beeblebrox in the touring production of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He says that he knew he had lost enough weight when he had to go round telling people "No, I haven't got cancer". As he concedes though, the real battle is not losing the pounds but keeping them off. He has done a pretty impressive job. That applies to his eating habits and also to this gig.

Mitch Benn is at the Leicester Square Theatre Lounge until May 18. Details here.

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